This book attempts to disclose the hitherto hidden life of a nun outside the enclosures of the convent. Initially this book was published in Malayalam. This autobiography is a journey of passing from one significant phase of life to another, just as the author’s travel from Delhi to Ernakulam by ‘Mangala Express’.
Jesme is called Memy lovingly by her family and studies as a pre-degree student at the prestigious St. Maria’s College. At the age of seven she undergoes her First Confession and First Holy Communion. In college, all the Catholic students are made to stay on for the ‘Closed Retreat’ for three days. After attending the Retreat at the junior college, and despite being spirited and fun-loving and coming from a good family, she is drawn to religious life at the age of 17 because of being deeply rooted in Catholicism.
She takes to wearing a white sari for entering the Aspirancy and goes for Mass to consecrate herself to Jesus through special prayers. She joins Daya College. Seven years later she becomes a nun and is distressed at the many ills growing inside the convent where the nuns are forced to remain silent. There she sees corruption by way of donations for college seats; sexual relations between some priests and nuns. Describing her life as a nun, Jesme says, “Attending some of the prayer services with the nuns, sharing food in the same refectory, sleeping under the same roof, I come into closer contact with them.”
Here almost all the sisters form pairs because without the support of a partner it is difficult to manage there. If a nun is sick or goes without food, it is only the partner who takes care of her. However, Jesme is permitted to complete her doctorate in English literature, to pursue her passion for literature, cinema and teaching college students. She enjoys classic films, believing that aesthetics enhances spirituality. But these joys are clouded by the trouble she faces.
She is made principal of the college but she is summoned by the Mother Superior telling her that she is being removed from the chair of the principal and to consult a mental specialist. She admits, “The constant reference to the medication for mental treatment frightens me.” The extent of her fear can be gauged from the fact that when “anything is kept on my plate at the dining table, I won’t have it for fear of drugs. Setting it aside, I take food only from the common table.”
One day her brother takes her away from the convent to give her a break from all responsibilities. Later she is taken to the Provincial House to meet the Mother General, who reinstates Jesme to the principal’s chair. But Jesme soon discovers she is being enticed to return to the convent. So she makes her escape from there.
Today she is living with her unbroken spirit and faith in Jesus and the church, like a nun, but outside the four walls of the convent; no longer within confines of the enclosure.
(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)